Peace in border areas key to normal ties, India tells China 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi holds talks with Jaishankar and Doval, but no agreement was announced

Updated - March 26, 2022 01:49 pm IST

Published - March 25, 2022 03:27 pm IST - New Delhi/Hong Kong

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on March 25, 2022. Photo: Twitter/@DrSJaishankar via PTI

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on March 25, 2022. Photo: Twitter/@DrSJaishankar via PTI

There can be no normality in India-China ties unless the troops amassed at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are withdrawn, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Delhi on Friday during talks that ended without any joint statement or agreement on the way forward.

Mr. Wang, who arrived in Delhi on Thursday and met National Security Adviser Ajit Doval for an hour on Friday morning, held three-hour talks with Mr. Jaishankar before leaving for Kathmandu.

Mr. Jaishankar told the media that their meeting had a “broad and substantive agenda” and the talks were “open and candid”. He said he had “conveyed our national sentiment” on the border issue and that “frictions and tensions that arise from China’s deployments since April 2020 cannot be reconciled with a normal relationship between two neighbours.”

“If you ask me, is our relationship normal today, my answer to you is no it is not, and it cannot be normal if the situation in the border areas is abnormal,” Mr. Jaishankar replied to a question from The Hindu, referring to the LAC in eastern Ladakh, where around 1,00,000 Indian and Chinese soldiers remain deployed in forward areas after the People’s Liberation Army’s transgressions. “Surely, the presence of a large number of troops there, in contravention of agreements, is abnormal,” he said.

While 15 rounds of commander-level talks and eight rounds of a special Working Mechanism on Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) for border affairs yielded “considerable progress”, several friction areas remained, Mr. Jaishankar noted, but didn’t mention specifics, or if India had spoken of the need to return to the “status quo ante” as of April 2020.

Three-point approach

China’s Foreign Ministry said Mr. Wang put forward a “three-point approach” in his talks with Mr. Doval, saying both sides needed to view ties with a “long-term vision”, see each other’s development as an opportunity, and cooperate on multilateral issues. On the second point, he proposed reviving the “China-India plus” initiative for joint projects in South Asia, an outcome of the Wuhan meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in 2018. He highlighted that China did not seek a “unipolar Asia” and “respects India's traditional role in the region”.

Beijing quoted Mr. Wang as saying both sides “should put the border issue in its proper place in bilateral relations and not allow the boundary issue to define or affect the overall development of the bilateral relationship”, an apparent point of difference between the two sides. India has stressed that the focus was on the border, and relations had been "disturbed by Chinese actions since April 2020".

Sources said Mr. Wang invited Mr. Doval to visit China for talks of Special Representatives on the boundary question, but the latter said he could visit only “after immediate issues are resolved successfully”. He noted that restoration of peace in border areas would create the “enabling environment” for progress in ties and was a "prerequisite for normalisation".

BRICS summit

Mr. Wang discussed China’s chairmanship of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping this year, and a desire to invite all the leaders to a summit in China, as well as India hosting the G20 and a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in 2023, which he described as two years for an “Asian moment” in global governance. He asserted that both "share the same or similar positions on major international and regional issues”.

The Modi government had earlier refused to hold bilateral talks on any issue other than the boundary. Friday’s talks were wide-ranging. They included trade and commerce, visas for thousands of Indian students awaiting to return to China, as well as developments including Ukraine and Afghanistan. The Chinese statement said hydrological cooperation on transborder rivers also figured.

Mr. Jaishankar said the two sides discussed Ukraine and their “respective” approaches with “a common element” that both agreed on the need for an immediate ceasefire and return to diplomacy. His remarks suggested that the two positions weren’t entirely aligned. One point of difference has been China’s explicit blaming of the U.S. and NATO for the crisis. On Afghanistan, where Mr. Wang visited on Thursday, Mr. Jaishankar said China had not invited India to its conference on foreign ministers of neighbouring countries of Afghanistan to be hosted by Beijing.

Comments at OIC meet

Mr. Jaishankar explained why comments made by Mr. Wang this week at the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meet in Pakistan that China “shares the same hope” of its “many Islamic friends” on Kashmir were “objectionable”, adding, in a reference to Pakistan, he hoped China would follow an “independent policy” towards India.

Asked why Mr. Wang’s arrival in India had been cloaked in secrecy and only announced on Friday when the meetings began, he remarked that this was done at the request of the Chinese side.

Observers in Beijing suggested that the trip to Kabul could have prompted the secrecy out of security concerns. The visits to Pakistan and Nepal were also not announced.

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